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PDP’LL CRUSH APC IN 2019 –ISHOLA FILANI

The All Progressives Congress, APC has been described as a party of strange bed-fellows. Making the assertion in this interview with ’TUNDE THOMAS, former National Vice-Chairman, Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Chief Ishola Filani said the time was up for the party and boasted that the PDP would inflict a crushing defeat on the APC in 2019.

Filani, who was also Publicity Secretary of the defunct Social Democratic Party, SDP, and Director of Media, M.K.O Abiola’s Hope ’93 Campaign Organisation also spoke on other national issues.

As the former National Publicity Secretary of the defunct SDP and former Director of Publicity, late M.K.O Abiola’s Campaign Organisation, Hope ’93, what’s your reaction to the ongoing claims and counter-claims by some eminent Nigerians over the conditional bail granted late Chief Abiola by General Sani Abacha’s regime. Some have also argued that Abiola would have been alive today if NADECO leaders then had not advised him to reject the bail.

Let me start by recalling how late M.K.O Abiola called some of us to a meeting in his house before he accepted and gave the go-ahead for members of the defunct SDP, his own political party, to serve in Abacha’s cabinet. He explained his reason for allowing them to serve in Abacha’s government.

He told us that the same invitation given to SDP members had also been extended to the defunct NRC to also nominate some members to serve in Abacha’s government. NRC and SDP were the two parties that contested the 1993 general election that was annulled by General Ibrahim Babangida’s military government. It was a series of other events later that led to the emergence of late Gen. Sani Abacha as Head of State.

What Abiola told us was later put to debate among those of us at that meeting. The impression Abacha gave when he took over the reins of government was, it was either he handed over to Abiola or conduct another election. As at that time, anybody who was a politician would know that it would be very difficult for anybody to recall Abiola to become the president because the June 12, 1993 election had been annulled and what the military were used to was to enact decrees to give backing to their actions. Although these decrees could be challenged in court, you would hardly be successful challenging those decrees in courts.

Our hope was that if we didn’t join the government and the NRC joined, it would look as if we were not cooperating with government. There were feelers then that NRC people were eager to join Abacha’s government which they eventually did. So, at that meeting, and with M.K.O Abiola’s consent, it was   agreed that SDP members should join Abacha’s cabinet. There was no doubt that Abiola won June 12, 1993 presidential election before it was annulled.

But it was only wise for us to cooperate by joining Abacha’s government with a faint hope that the annulled June 12, 1993 election would still be revalidated.

This decision to allow SDP members to join Abiola’s cabinet was solely taken by SDP, with Abiola’s consent. NADECO had not been formed at that time. So, the claims being made by NADECO leaders that they were the ones that gave the go ahead to Yoruba ministers who served in Abacha’s cabinet to do so was false. It is a big lie.

NADECO was not a baby of the SDP. It was the SDP and Abiola that took the decision that those who served in Abacha’s cabinet should do so. NADECO was not in existence at the time that decision was taken.

So, where you didn’t nominate somebody to go and join and serve, how would you ask such individuals to withdraw from the cabinet. Some of the claims being made by Senator Femi Okurounmu and other NADECO leaders on the June 12 crisis are not true. NADECO leaders were not the ones that nominated those Yoruba ministers who served in Abacha’s government like Ebenezer Babatope, Lateef Jakande, Elder Wole Oyelese and others. They don’t have the right to ask them to withdraw from Abacha’s cabinet.

Contrary to Okurounmu’s claims that Babatope, Jakande, Oyelese, and other Yoruba ministers in Abacha’s cabinet helped to bury June 12 struggle and worked against M.K.O Abiola’s interest, it was rather the other way round. It was actually Okurounmu and other NADECO leaders, through their selfish actions, that scuttled June 12 struggle. They were the ones who worked against Abiola. Okurounmu and other NADECO leaders sabotaged June 12 struggle.

But it is the belief of some Nigerians that NADECO, a pro-democracy pressure group actually stood by M.K.O Abiola during the June 12 struggle even when some of his own SDP party members had abandoned him …

Let me tell you this which may shock millions of Nigerians. Majority of the leadership of NADECO opposed Abiola. They didn’t want him to become Nigeria’s president. They deceived him. They gave Nigerians and Abiola the impression that they were working for his interests, while in actual fact, the NADECO leaders were saboteurs. They were the ones who not only scuttled but scattered the June 12 struggle.

Why would NADECO leaders oppose Abiola, and work against his interests?

These NADECO leaders said it was Abiola who didn’t allow late Chief Obafemi Awolowo to become the President of Nigeria. They said when Abiola was supposed to support Awolowo, he supported Alhaji Shehu Shagari to become president.

I remember that myself, late Ojo Maduekwe, Dayo Abatan went for a rally at TBS in Lagos campaigning for M.K.O Abiola in 1993, and some Awolowo supporters saw us. They called us aside and chastised us for supporting and campaigning for Abiola who, according to them, didn’t support Awolowo then. They even called us bastards.

When they chastised us, I remember Ojo Maduekwe telling them that look, it was Yoruba politics you people were playing, and that Abiola, as far as he was concerned ,was contesting for the Presidency of Nigeria, and that he, as an Igbo man was supporting him. NADECO, as far as the struggle for June 12 was concerned, was alien to those of us who actually campaigned and fought to ensure that Abiola got justice over the June 12 crisis. NADECO to us was an alien body. NADECO can’t and should not be counted among individuals and groups that worked for Abiola’s interests and June 12 struggle.

Senator Okurounmu who has been trying to portray NADECO group as a patriotic organization concerning June 12 struggle, I never met him, or saw him during that period. He was never in the picture during the events that took place before, during and after June 12 elections in 1993. He might have come into picture much later when they formed their NADECO and many of us who were principal actors in the June 12 struggle were not members of NADECO.

But Senator Okurounmu claimed that it was actually NADECO leaders who mobilized support for Abiola especially in the South West geo-political zone that enabled him to get 100 percent of the votes and that Awolowo’s supporters had no bitterness against Abiola …

This is not correct. Okurounmu is not saying the truth. Awolowo’s supporters were against Abiola, and some of them didn’t hide it. NADECO was more or less a Yoruba organization with the exception of few non-Yoruba like Rear-Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu, Commodore Dan Suleman. Most of these NADECO leaders were known as die-hard Awolowo supporters. To make matter worse for M.K.O Abiola that time, while SDP leaders were negotiating to provide an amicable settlement of June 12 crisis, NADECO turned the issue into something like trade union affair,  and this was not in the interest of Abiola.

The Epetedo declaration made by M.K.O Abiola when he declared himself president was a NADECO affair. NADECO people misled Abiola into making that declaration. SDP, Abiola’s party, was not part of it. We were not privy to it. NADECO leaders hijacked Abiola, and eventually played the spoiler game in the June 12 struggle.

While those of us in SDP stayed together as a group under the leadership of Alhaji Baba Gana Kingibe and trying to negotiate to see how a favourable solution could be reached over Abiola’s issue, the NADECO people played a spoiler role by making or advising Abiola to make that Epetedo declaration.

If Babatope, Jakande, Oyelese and some others are accusing NADECO leaders of contributing to Abiola’s failure or working against his interest by advising him not to take that conditional bail granted him by Abacha’s government, they are absolutely right. I agree with them.

Here you are NADECO, you were not the ones that nominated these people, Babatope, Jakande, Oyelese, Osomo, and other Yoruba leaders into Abacha’s government, how could they tell them to resign? It is not possible.

Are you the one that nominated them into Abacha’s government?

No, but I attended the meeting at Abiola’s house where the decision for SDP members to go and serve in Abacha’s cabinet was taken. It was an SDP affair and not a NADECO affair. NADECO had not been formed as at that time.

Are you now saying that M.K.O Abiola and the June 12 crisis could have been resolved or well managed if NADECO had not joined the fray?

Yes… NADECO scattered June 12 struggle. NADECO did a lot of damage to the June 12 crisis. At a point, they turned the June 12 struggle into a Yoruba affair. The question we were asking them was this, are the Yoruba the only ones who voted for Abiola? NADECO turned it into a sectional issue. Perhaps, M.K.O Abiola would have been alive today if not for NADECO leaders’ antagonistic posture concerning the June 12 struggle. They pretended to be working for Abiola, but their activities and actions were inimical to Abiola’s interests.

There is a difference between fighting a war and making a political negotiation over an issue. Abiola was in captivity, he should have been allowed to regain his freedom first, these NADECO people should have allowed him to get out of captivity first, but they didn’t. They advised him not to take the conditional bail. Does a man that is in captivity have any advantage over those who held him? No. This is why he should have been allowed to come out of detention first before any other thing followed.

Each bail had conditions, so attaching conditions or granting conditional bail to Abiola was not even an issue, it was his freedom first, that mattered. Even if Abiola had been allowed to take that conditional bail, coming out of detention, he would have challenged the bail conditions. It should have been Abiola’s freedom first and that was our concern in SDP. Let Abiola come out first, and any other thing can follow.

At a point, NADECO leaders now turned those of us in SDP and who are genuinely committed to resolving the June 12 issue against him. They were feeding Abiola with falsehood against us. They were telling him that those of us in SDP were against him, that we didn’t want him to become president. NADECO did a lot of incalculable damage to June 12 struggle and Abiola’s interests. It is monumental. But for NADECO, Abiola would still have been alive today.

With what you are saying now, what is your advice to NADECO leaders?

They should stop feeding members of the public with falsehood. They should not attempt to write or turn history on its head, they should not try to claim or ascribe any noble role to themselves in the June 12 crisis. If there is any role NADECO leaders played in the June 12 crisis, it was not a patriotic role and for that, they should apologise to Nigerians for the harm they did to the June 12 struggle. The NADECO leaders should also apologise to the then SDP, and the family of M.K.O Abiola. Abacha’s regime was the worst thing to have happened to Nigeria.

Some Nigerians are saying that things can never be the same again with the PDP even though the Senator Ahmed Makarfi-led National Caretaker Committee had won the case against Senator Ali Modu Sheriff’s faction, do you agree?

I don’t agree.Those saying that are those who don’t know PDP very well. In the first instance, what happened to PDP was a result of problems which led to the party losing 2015 general election. PDP would have even won that election if the party had fielded somebody from the North because at that time, we had spent 16 years of democracy. But out of those 16 years, Presidency had been in the hands of the southerners for 14 years while the North had only enjoyed two years, and that was during Yar’Adua’s period. Therefore, if the PDP had fielded a northerner, the party would have won the poll.

But as for Sheriff crisis weakening PDP, I don’t agree. How many people were with Sheriff? Apart from Senator Buruji Kashamu, who else was with Sheriff that is a notable figure? There was nobody with him. Sheriff had no notable supporter apart from Buruji Kashamu. The situation in APC is more terrible than the situation in PDP. What we are doing now is reconciliation, bringing back to the party’s fold those who left at the height of the crisis engineered by Sheriff. And we are getting positive results. Many of them have expressed the desire to return to the PDP.

As for the Sheriff people in PDP, that’s his supporters, they are very insignificant. It is only Sheriff that has left us (PDP); anyway we are not yet sure whether he has left us or whether he is still with us, but if Sheriff decides to leave PDP today, nobody will miss him. Even where Sheriff expresses his intention to come back or still remain in PDP, we have to be very careful. His companion, Buruji Kashamu, is neither here nor there. Kashamu’s supporters are in the so-called mega party while Kashamu is claiming to be in PDP.

However, I’m optimistic that many APC members will defect to PDP. APC is having a lot of problems. APC is not a political party, but a conglomeration of political parties, and this is why APC has not been able to dissolve into one party.

Is it not baffling that even after winning the general election in 2015, APC has still not been able to fuse into one political party. APC still consists of different blocks. PDP will soon organize its national convention where its national officers will be elected, and from then on, PDP will be waxing stronger and stronger with the aim of winning the general election of 2019.

On the issue of picking principal officers for the party, PDP is believed to have agreed in principle to zone the presidential slot to the North, while the chairmanship has been reportedly zoned to the South …

South West is the only geo-political zone that has yet to produce a candidate for the office of the PDP National Chairman. So, in the spirit of fairness, equity and justice, the position should be given to the South West. That was one of the considerations that made the South to meet at a time, and agreed to allow the office be zoned to the South West.

A South West candidate would have even emerged at the party’s convention in Port Harcourt that was jettisoned as a result of court order and different injunctions being obtained by some individuals.

To all intents and purposes, we are appealing to our leaders, and in the interest of justice and equity, the zoning of PDP national chairman to the South West remains.

But even in the South West, some people are saying that there are too many candidates showing interest in the position and that is capable of creating crisis which may eventually threaten the zone’s chances, what’s your take on that?

Since the position has been zoned to the South West, anybody that is qualified can aspire, that’s the beauty of democracy. That the likes of Bode George, Tunde Adeniran, and Gbenga Daniel are aspiring for the position should not be seen as confusion.

This is why there is going to be a convention, let everybody go to the field and convince the delegates as to why they should be voted for. Left to me, Bode George is my choice. Bode George is an elder, and a seasoned politician. He was also a former state governor, and since he came into politics, he has been an asset to PDP.

He is a member of PDP Board of Trustees and former Deputy National Chairman of PDP. Bode George also led the campaign winning five South West states from the AD in 2003 general elections. He led PDP to victory in Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Ondo and Ekiti states. He was also the Director-General of Umaru Musa Yar’Adua Campaign Organisation. The PDP needs a strong candidate for the position of national chairman, and Bode George perfectly fits that role.

How would you assess the chances of PDP in 2019 general election?

PDP will definitely win. Like I said earlier, APC is not a political party, and this has clearly shown in the way the party has been conducting its internal affairs since 2015, and to some extent, the affairs of the country.

Nigerians now know the difference. APC is a house divided against itself, and this is why the party has not been able to get its acts together. This is why the party has not been able to fulfill its electoral promises to Nigerians. This is why Nigerians are now eager to change this party that came to power on the mantra of change which it has never effected or even manifested in terms of bringing it to bear on governance in the polity.

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